A kabuki theatre of incompetence that brought about a federal government shutdown, has failed hundreds of thousands of government employees while cutting billions on social programs spending. Now Washington faces the very real scenario of a default. The problems posed by the US domestic situation are so dire that Obama was forced to cancel high-profile trips to Asia-Pacific countries, in fear of the debt ceiling crashing down on his presidency. Obama was supposed to visit the APEC Summit in Bali, the ASEAN meeting in Brunei, as well as pay visits to Malaysia and the Philippines – two countries that feature prominently in the “Pivot to Asia” policy unveiled in 2011. Instead, he sent the court jester, John Kerry, in his place.
With Obama’s wings clipped and Air Force One grounded, China’s President Xi Jinping swooped in and stole the show, cutting billion-dollar deals on landmark visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and securing the spotlight for the APEC and ASEAN conferences. While Xi came arm-in-arm with his classy wife for a massive charm offensive that topped headlines in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, Obama twiddled his thumbs in the Oval Office and played the blame game with Republicans, like truculent teenagers. Given the extreme value placed on the concept of saving or losing face in Chinese culture, this can only be a “paper tiger” moment for Obama when viewed through the lens of Beijing. Obama’s no-show is yet another symbolic indication of the winds of global power blowing eastward, as the two largest economies vie for influence in military affairs and markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region: this century’s global locomotive for economic development.